Open-source biotechnology boasts first big success

Though some enviros are opposed to genetic engineering of any kind, other critics have a more specific complaint about biotechnology: that restrictive patents held by companies like Monsanto and Syngenta impede research and development into biotech applications that could help developing countries or smaller, more specialized crops in the U.S. — i.e., applications that don’t promise huge profits. In response to these concerns, a group of researchers is attempting to apply the open-source model for software development (which produced the Linux operating system) to biotech, releasing their results into the “intellectual commons” free of charge, the only stipulation on their use being that any improvements or developments also be released for free. A new initiative based on these principles, called the Biological Innovation for Open Society, led by Australian researcher Richard A. Jefferson, has just released a new method for transferring genes into plants, bypassing the patented methods. Watch for many more such developments to come.